And Now a Relaxing Article About COVID in Danish Mink Farms

White Mink

From The Guardian, a generally reliable enough website, this article:

“Denmark tightens lockdown in north over mink Covid outbreak”

As a headline writer myself, I respect the craft. Please continue:

“Twelve people infected so far with new strain against which vaccines may be ineffective”

That’s what we people doing online publishing call the “dek”; it means “deck.” It’s a subheading.

We also call the lead the “lede.” Don’t ask why, these things go back centuries. Do you want to know why windows in ships are always called “portholes” and “deck” means floor? Not really, no.

Mink Apocalypse

An outbreak among farmed mink of a mutant form of Covid-19 with the potential to be resistant to future vaccines has led to the Danish government bringing in tougher lockdown measures in parts of the country.

The measures were announced following the discovery of a new strain of the disease in animals bred for fur in the country’s northern regions.

Twelve people in the Jutland region have been diagnosed with infection with the new strain, and municipalities in northern Denmark will impose restrictions on residents’ movements between regions.”

Now, this is some fine newscraft! Let me break down how we do it in the sports world:

“Tigers 7, Twins 4: Bullpen blows lead, player also rips head off baby”

With the dek:

“In a surprising finish, the Twins lose a key division game with an unusual ‘twist.'”

See! That’s how it’s done! Ya hook ’em, ya reel ’em in. Child’s play, really. If you’ve practiced it enough.

Now, the gist of the article is about some new strain of coronavirus which blahblahblah — nobody really knows nothing about. But it has spread between minks. And humans have gotten it, which means it might have been mutated into something even scarier.

So 15 million minks are going to be killed.

Welcome to Loveable, Liberal Denmark

I do know northern Denmark a little. I attended a lovely wedding there. It was between two naval officers, appropriately held on a ship. During a smoke break, and they have those at Danish weddings, we noticed something in the far distance that looked like a ship on fire. It was difficult to be sure, but it very much looked like a very large ship on very much fire. Some watchers muttered, “That’s a bad omen.” Seagoing people are into omens.

Did it turn out, that was a fire? Yes it did! Did that marriage last? No, it spectacularly did not!

But they did go on a honeymoon, which meant one of their friends I’d never met provided me a ride to the airport. He was a farmer and spent the 90-minute drive complaining about how large-scale agricultural companies were squeezing out family farms. It was the kind of thing I’m inclined to sympathize with, so I listened.

He never mentioned mink farming.

Oh Yes: Danish Mink Farming Is a Thing

Denmark actually leads the world in mink production. For comparison, the pro-fur-farming website, Truth About Fur, says there are 268 mink farms in America, producing 2.7 million pelts a year.

The number of affected farms in Denmark? Well over 1000, raising 16 million minks a year. They are legally required to share information and innovation concepts with each other. (Obviously, in this instance, it didn’t work out too well.)

They actually have pretty decent regulations on preventing animal cruelty, but by no means are most Danes vegan. They consume insane amounts of pork, for instance; I’ve never stayed in a Danish home where bacon or chops or pork burgers or pork hotdogs aren’t served at least once daily, sometimes in combination. They all had pork liverwurst in the fridge as a midnight snack, too.

And, valid concerns about animal rights aside, I’ve eaten all these items in Danish homes, and they were all delicious. I’m a guest; it would be rude not to. Even if you only take a little bite to compliment the cook.

The End of Danish Mink? And the Best Bar in the World?

This mass slaughter will, no doubt, greatly hurt the Danish mink industry, even though worldwide demand is likely to continue. (Why wouldn’t it? Rich people spending on ridiculous luxury goods is recession-proof.) Most likely, if usual agricultural economics hold, the smallest farms will have to sell out to ones with greater cash reserves.

In a way, it’s very much like what my post-wedding airport driver was complaining about – the little farms losing out to bigger ones. He probably meant pork or potatoes farms (Danes also eat a lot of potatoes), but in this case, it’s mink. You don’t have to approve of fur farming to root for the little farmer. Or the littler minks.

How’s the naval ex-wife? (That’s who we knew of the couple.) She’s fine, still in the navy, and lives in this teensy Northern Denmark town with probably the best, most wonderful bar I’ve ever been to in my life. Picture “Cheers,” but with sailors, and a lot of people quietly smoking and reading. The grill is in the back for anyone who wants to use it.

That’s shut down because of a lockdown due to the mink farming crisis. That’s sad but maybe it’ll survive; Denmark is better at supporting small businesses than we are.

The COVID mink did not survive, however. But hey, at least this article wasn’t about the US election. A friend of mine I sent The Guardian story to actually responded, “Thanks for the distraction.”


White Mink by felixd under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Putting Off the Apocalypse

Apocalypse

As I write this, Associated Press has called all the states and Joe Biden beat Donald Trump 306-232. And it also looks like we have a chance in the two Georgia Senate races.

This is good news. But we need to be honest. The future looks very bad indeed.

Reagan vs Trump

In 1980 Ronald Reagan ran for president with a very positive message: that conservatism was going to make us all much happier. It was bullshit of course. But the people were voting for something positive — something that would make their lives better.

I’m the first to point out that Reagan was the Trump of his time. Proportionally, Reagan harmed our country as much as Trump. But at that time, Republicans still believed that they could and should win majority support.

Right now the Republicans are not offering anything to the American people. They don’t need to. As bad as Trump was, he almost won re-election.

Razor-Thin Margin

As I write this, Biden won the popular vote by 6 million. And that will likely grow as the vote continues. That’s 52 percent of the popular vote (excluding third parties). But he won 57 percent of the Electoral College. What am I complaining about?

Trump would have been re-elected had he won Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin. So let’s look at the number of votes Biden won those states by:

StateVotesPercent
Arizona10,4570.31%
Georgia12,2840.25%
Wisconsin20,5650.63%
Total43,3060.38%

Let’s put this in context. This is roughly half the number of votes that Trump won by in 2016 and we all rightly noted that it was basically nothing.

What these numbers mean is that this country is every bit as in love with Trump as they ever were. In my darkest moments I think about how I might eventually retire elsewhere because I don’t want to die in a fascist country.

The System

Because of the American system, Republicans grew their numbers in the House of Representatives. And it is likely they will stay more or less where they are in the Senate. So there will be no fundamental changes to that American system. And this is very bad indeed.

By the time we have our next election, the states will be even further gerrymandered to the benefit of the Republicans. And we have a Supreme Court that will absolutely not stop them from doing that. At the same time, we can count on the Court to stop Biden from doing everything possible via executive action — something that a less-conservative Court was not willing to do to Trump.

It’s good that Biden won. It’s better than Trump having won. But things look very bleak. It looks like there will be Republican minority rule for a generation because half of America thinks the benefit of expressing their racism publicly is more important than fighting a pandemic and saving the economy.

Our only real hope is that the Republicans will, as usual, do such a bad job governing that they throw it back to the Democrats. But that’s just at the national level. States like Michigan and Pennsylvania are still controlled by Republicans because of their 2010 election gerrymandering. And now they get to do it again!

Brace Yourself

So I think things are really really bad. Access to abortions will be gone within a couple of years. I had thought Obamacare would be gone next year with nothing to replace it, but it looks like some conservatives on the Court are exhausted by this issue. (But don’t count them out!)

In a fundamental sense, America is exceptional. We have an exceptionally bad anti-democratic system largely the result of slavery. And we still have huge numbers of white people who think the only racial problem in this country is that they aren’t given special privileges for being white. Hopefully, this will change. But there’s no indication that it will.

The Republican party has fully embraced authoritarianism. And even if people like Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio had not embraced it, the base would have demanded it. Forty percent of this country is made up of authoritarians.

Brace yourself. This is going to get bad.


Image by ArtTower via Pixabay. I cropped it.

The Problem With “No Evidence of Voter Fraud”

Sherlock Holmes

There is an asymmetry in the way that those on the left and those on the right discuss voter fraud and similar subjects.

On the right they talked about how there is voter fraud. On the left we talk about how there was no evidence of voter fraud. This is bad.

To most people this sounds like those on the left are splitting hairs. Saying that there is no evidence of fraud implies that there might be fraud, “Sure, there’s no evidence of voter fraud but we all know there is, right?”

In terms of science, it is good to make clear that there is no evidence. You want to be nuanced and only say things that you know are true. But in that situation, the other scientists wouldn’t be stating that there is voter fraud as a matter of fact. They would be saying, “Here is the evidence of voter fraud.”

Rhetorical Catastrophe

From a rhetorical standpoint, this is catastrophic. People on the right are making a simple declarative statement: “There is voter fraud!” The counter to that must be as emphatic: “There is no voter fraud!”

If evidence does eventually appear that shows there is the kind of voter fraud conservatives claim, then we can either change what we believe or make more nuanced arguments. But until then, the argument should go like this:

Con: There is voter fraud!
Lib: There is no voter fraud!
Con: How can you say that?!
Lib: Show me the evidence! You say this but you never provide evidence. And that’s because tons of people on your side have looked into it and found nothing. There is no voter fraud!

Notice what’s not happening here: we aren’t countering their statement with a less-clear statement that uses their framing of the issue. I realize that to a reasonable person, this is nonsense. You shouldn’t have to counter absurd claims with their opposite. But no one counters “Angels are real!” with “There is no evidence that angels are real.” Or at least if you do you look like an idiot.

In general when talking about things, you don’t talk about evidence. You don’t say there’s no evidence that I have cancer. You say I don’t have cancer. In the absence of evidence, you don’t assume something that’s unusual.

Tell It Like It Is

So people on the left sound like disingenuous assholes when they can’t spit out the equivalent of, “Bullshit!” People on the right at least sound like they actually believe what they’re saying.

So all over I’m hearing Republicans saying that there’s a huge amount of voter fraud. And people on the left are saying no there’s no evidence of voter fraud. Or even worse they’re saying there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Why can’t we just make a declarative statement?! There is no voter fraud! If Republicans want to come back and say yes there is and here’s the evidence, fine! But this is just bullshitting.

The truth is that people on the left think they’re being careful and honest. And they’re paid back with disbelief.

Let’s stop this nonsense. There’s no evidence that a teapot is orbiting the Sun between the Earth and Mars. But no one says that. They just say that there’s no teapot because there’s no reason to believe there is a teapot! If someone wants to say that there is a teapot, then they better be willing to present evidence that there is a teapot orbiting the Sun! How fucking hard is this?!


Sherlock Holmes image by OpenClipart-Vectors via Pixabay.

Why Wasn’t There a Blue Wave? Maybe Because People Thought One Was Coming

Blue Wave 2020

This is a “hot take” so don’t hold me to it. But I’ve had this idea ever since the results started coming in Tuesday evening and it became clear that the Blue Wave was not happening. Instead, we got the kind of election that most of us were assuming back in March. What happened? Why were the polls so bad?

I haven’t seen any analysis and it will doubtless turn out that there were a number of reasons that the polls to not do a good job predicting the election results. But I want to suggest that a big one may be feedback.

The idea is a common one in physics. The act of measuring an attribute of an object changes that object. For example: you can’t see what something looks like in the dark. You have to shine a light at it.

Under most circumstances, this doesn’t matter. It’s normally only at the quantum level that the effect is big enough to be concerned about. As a result, this is normally an issue that is only discussed along with quantum mechanics.

Polling Feedbacks

Could it be that the polling results affected voting?

During this election, a large percentage of the news coverage talked about the polls. Remembering 2016, everyone was clear that the polls could be wrong. But maybe they weren’t.

Maybe instead, the polls got people to change their behavior. In Arizona, most of the late-arriving mail-in ballots (Saturday through Election Day) favored Trump by a wide margin. This could just be votes from people who normally mail-in ballots. Elderly people often use mail-in voting.

But it could also indicate that people who might have sat out the race were motivated to vote because they didn’t like what they were seeing.

The other side is also possible: people on the left didn’t think they needed to vote because there was obviously a big lead for Biden. But this seems unlikely because (1) most liberals were suspicious of the polls and (2) the turn-out was high.

C&H Sugar Factory

Just a Thought

I don’t know if this was a big effect or not. I do, however, feel certain that public polling and election models are bad for our society.

They feed “horse race” coverage. People watch them the way they watch a sporting event. And by “people” I mean “everyone I know including me.”

The media is really good at giving us what our basest instincts crave. This is the political equivalent of gorging ourselves on refined sugar. On the other hand, we are already well sorted in terms of policy preferences. And we know that the kind of policy detail we might hear on The Weeds will never come to pass. So it’s understandable that we would pour those political white crystals directly from a C&H bag into our mouths.

But we need to find a way forward without polls. Because for whatever reason, they aren’t very good at predicting modern American election results.


Blue Wave 2020 image by AnnaliseArt under Pixabay License. C&H Factory by Cullen328 under CC BY-SA 3.0.

There Was an Election?

Boxing

Well, I guess we had an election? People keep telling me that anyway. I try to avoid thinking about it and so I’ve been watching even more horror films than usual. Of course, this is all a change.

The night of the election, I was very excited. I thought it would be a great night for the Democrats. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, I was depressed. But eventually, I adjusted my expectations and saw that a win for Biden was a win for America.

Or maybe it’s better to say that a win for Biden gives America a chance. But it’s not a great one.

Republican Senate

We seem to be stuck with a Republican Senate despite the fact that there were far more votes for Democrats. And that means that there will be no stimulus for the economy for at least 2 years.

And that’s sad. Because a small number of people think it is to their advantage electorally, millions of people are forced to suffer.

It’s also a short-term strategy. Destroying the economy will probably work for the Republicans in 2022. But by 2024, the economy (despite the best efforts of Republicans) will be recovering. And that will be good for Democrats.

Why We Can’t All Get Along

I am very much in a “Why can’t we all just get along?” mood. The problem is, I know why: the Republicans. The truth is that any political party will be as extreme as it can get away with.

Because of the construction of our electoral system, the Republicans can be very conservative — far more conservative than the voters are — and still have power.

For my friends on the left who like to complain that most people agree with the left on policy, there’s your answer. The government is set up such that it does not reflect the will of the people. It reflects the will of people a good deal more conservative.

What We Know

As I right this, Biden is on the verge of taking the lead in Pennsylvania and Georgia. At the same time, he’s almost 4 million votes ahead of Trump nationally. I’ve heard estimates that when all the votes are counted, he will win by 5 million.

Think about that. This election isn’t even close. Yet 3 days out we still don’t know. We have razor-thin margins in a number of states. This is not how a democracy should work. (Yes, for the idiot conservatives: “democratic republic” — every time I hear someone talk about this it is clear they know very little about political systems.)

We’ve all gotten to the point where we just accept it. And we shouldn’t.

I’ll leave you with that. I hope to write another article over the weekend about Paula White’s speech. I have a different take on it than many others. See you then!


Boxing image via Pixy in the public domain.